So you need or want to find a job—maybe your first job—this summer, either to earn funds for school or to burnish your skill set, or both. It’s time to tuck your Social Security card into your wallet and print out a stack of resumes. But then what do you do? I can’t speak about the new technologies like Monster.com, but I can tell you how to find a summer job the tried and true old-fashioned way, based on my past successful experience. The most important part is how you strategize and attitudinize before you hit the pavement. Then, it all comes down to how hard you work at it. Finding the job and getting hired is the first and probably the hardest part of the work you do having a summer job!
Internships—a special case
First, are you in a position to distinguish between aiming for the money, or for the experience? If you are more interested in a formal internship, perhaps even fortunate enough to be able to consider an unpaid internship in order to gain an opening and contacts in your chosen field, you must figure out the specific logistics of how to apply, how and where you will live, and what transportation, funds, and other support you will need to pull it off. Usually internship programs have very structured, competitive, formal application procedures and deadlines that you need to know and follow. Some of the other advice below may apply to your work situation nevertheless, so read on and then use your best judgment.
“I just want to make some money!”
The vast majority of summer jobs for young people are not internships—they just pay you money to get you to show up and put forth your promised time and effort in a dependable manner for the contracted time period. Ideally, a well-chosen summer job will help you acquire new skills and contacts for your specific future career, making it a more interesting learning period for you. The bottom line, though, is that you at least want to spend your summertime industriously socking away some savings. And even the least glamorous summer job can go on your developing resume to show that you are mature enough to be employable. If you succeed at your summer job, you will make new friends and have good references for future work and better jobs up the capitalist ladder. The best part, though, is the nest egg in your bank and knowing that you (unlike the sloths on the beach) have used your mind, your time, and your energy wisely to advance and enrich yourself.
Attitude is everything
First of all, you must realize that there is no job too lowly for you to take, if you are honorably and honestly paid for legal work, and you do your part to fulfill your promised contract. The great part about a summer job is that the time period you are committed to is limited. But that is also the worst part about a summer job from the viewpoint of most employers. Why should an employer go to all the trouble to hire someone, file all the paperwork and deal with the legal and personnel hassles, train that person, trust that person to show up and perform properly and honestly, and then lose that person in a few short weeks? What’s in it for the employer? The sooner you start thinking like an employer, the sooner you will understand what it is you must convey and deliver in order to land a summer job.
Are you worth it for an employer to hire you? It is a considerable outlay of money and effort for an employer to even sign you on (the paperwork and legal requirements are tremendous these days). As a worker, are you worth the Federally-mandated minimum wage? Will you steal from him? Will you show up when you’re supposed to, or will they have to be scrambling to cover your absence? Will you work as you promise to, or will you come in late, sneak out early, take long breaks, disappear for lunch, or spend too much time yakking or web-surfing instead of working?
Do you care about the quality of your work? Can you learn the skills you are being hired to provide? Are you agreeable, friendly, presentable, well-mannered and well-groomed, or will you have “attitude” or “people problems” on the job? Will you be an asset as a representative of your new company? You are asking an employer to take a risk on you, an unknown quantity, in a time of recession and high unemployment. Why should he or she hire you at all, or instead of someone else older or more experienced?
These are the questions you must ask and answer for yourself before you even put together your resume.
You are not going out as a supplicant looking for a handout. Neither are you God’s gift to the community owed the entitlement of a job. You are seeking a voluntary contract with an employer for mutual benefit at agreed-upon terms. And your first, major hurdle is that you must convince the employer that you will uphold your end of the deal and are worth the risk. You must make the employer feel as excited and satisfied to hire you as you will be excited to have landed your summer job. You must make the employer feel that you have a great work ethic, will fit in happily with your coworkers, and will understand how you can fulfill what the company needs—and are happy to have the chance to do that and more.
And then while you are working at your summer job, every day you must make your employer even more happy he hired you than ever. Project a flexibility and enthusiasm to do whatever is needed to help out. Wow them with unexpected efforts, with creative, helpful work, with a thinking mind and elbow grease applied on the company’s behalf—and you will be on your way to a stellar career in whatever field you choose. From stopping to pick up a gum wrapper on the way in to work, to offering a well-thought-out suggestion on how things might be done more efficiently—the person giving more than what’s expected, who arrives early and is okay with leaving late, who is cheerful to be called beyond the call of duty and who can rise to any occasion, is the person most likely to succeed not just in any given job, but in life. This is the attitude to take with you on the job hunt and into every job.
As a very successful self-made businessman* once said in the depth of the Great Depression:
“There is as much opportunity today for the youth with ambition as there ever was. I would advise a young man: Always do more than you are expected to do and if you see something that needs to be done, do it yourself.”
Looking for work
So how do you find summer job prospects in a down economy? Start by telling everyone you know (friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, Facebook, former teachers, folks from church and clubs) that you’re looking for a summer job. Check with your school’s placement office for referrals--and tips on job-seeking, interviewing, and crafting a current resume. Do research online and even check the classified ads sections of local newspapers (don’t laugh, I landed a typist’s job through a classified ad and three weeks later was promoted to Head Copywriter in a small publishing company—it happens).
The important thing is landing an interview where you can try to impress an employer with your presence, character, and thought-process in a face-to-face meeting—called “getting your foot in the door.” Meanwhile, be prepared to be surprised and take advantage of unexpected turns of fortune—and don’t pass up a good job because you are waiting for the perfect job that won’t materialize. After all, it’s only for the summer. Every week you're looking is a week you're not earning money.
Along with following up on any leads your personal networks can give you, you’ll want to start visiting companies and businesses in person to leave your (targeted) resume, fill out applications, and hope for a face-to-face meeting with the hiring person. At this phase you’re doing field research and practicing your business interview skills. But how to tackle this big area of possibilities? Begin by deciding what kind of business you’d most like to work for (retail stores, food service, computers, an office environment, driving/delivery, teaching, medical, entertainment, outdoor work). Focus first on firms you think might be hiring summer workers. Start with those companies closest to you geographically. Then do your research, prepare your resume, suit up, jump in, and start making the rounds.
If nothing turns up, don’t let up. Start looking farther afield, both as to kinds of businesses, and location. You should be working on sending out resumes and visiting businesses every day. Think about devoting a day to hitting a mall, or a neighborhood, and visiting every storefront. If one place is not hiring, ask if they know who is. Even if nothing comes of two or three weeks of such diligence, here is a real-life education you can get no other way and as such, it’s an investment in yourself.
Be sure to research the firms you are most interested in working for, so you can visualize the interview from their side of the desk, knowing their specific business needs and goals and how you can help them. Google makes this kind of research so easy these days! And don’t forget to make early contact with businesses that rely heavily on summer seasonal hiring of young people, such as amusement and water parks, summer and day camps, tourist venues, nature centers and parks, and tutoring services—they are used to evaluating and hiring young people for limited periods, and are already geared up to process job-seekers like you.
Another option is registering at a temp work agency if there is one in your area. If you have any keyboarding, software, or certain other skills they may be able to find you temporary jobs in your area starting the following day. Manpower is one of the oldest and largest such agencies. There are also government agencies and government jobs programs you may want to look into if all else fails and you don't mind the blind, slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy and political patronage.
The sooner you start your job hunt the better. After all, there are thousands of young people out looking for the same jobs.
Don’t forget to stay organized, keep your paperwork straight, remember names and spell them properly, have someone proofread your resume, and be sure to send your handwritten, personally directed thank-you notes immediately following any interviews you have. Don’t be stingy; send them everywhere and to anyone who takes a moment to help you. This human touch of good manners and appreciation on your part may distinguish you from the crowd and result in your getting the call back for another interview or an outright job offer.
After you have acquired the skills and spent the time to land a job, and then spent your summer weeks working hard and saving cash, you will be relieved and proud to be able to head back to school where (if you don’t have to have a job working while in school) all you have to do is please and invest in yourself for the next nine months, instead of pleasing and working for an employer. You will have a new appreciation of the dynamism of the working world—and the luxuries and freedoms of the academic world.
*Jacob P. Goettel (1861-1941), a leader in clothing merchandizing in Syracuse, New York.
How to land a summer job
How to write a resume